Anne-Marie Ørbeck Was A Pianist And Composer, And Will Be Honored During The 2023 Bergen International Festival. Photo: From Anne-Marie Ørbeck's Collections.

Honouring a forgotten composer

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January 25, 2023

Anne-Marie Ørbeck (1911–1996) was the first Norwegian woman to compose a symphony for a full orchestra. Now, she is the festival composer of the 2023 Bergen International Festival.

‘Anne-Marie Ørbeck wrote unique and modern music in a tonal style, with an international orientation and inspired by Norwegian folk music. She was the first Norwegian woman to write and have a symphony performed. A true pioneer, yet entirely unknown to many, says festival director Lars Petter Hagen.

During the 1930s, Ørbeck distinguished herself as one of Norway's foremost pianists with performances at home and abroad and excelled with her own arrangements and cadenzas for works by famous composers. She studied both piano and composition and debuted as an orchestral composer in Berlin in 1938. Together with her husband, Helge Smitt, she moved to Bergen two years later. The war and family life meant fewer concerts and, thus, more time for composing.

Ørbeck's major piece was a symphony in D major, which saw its world premiere in Bergen in 1954 and was well-received by her contemporaries. She also wrote many songs and composed several other pieces.

Today, her pieces are seldom performed. That is something festival director Lars Petter Hagen wants to address. At the 2023 Festival, there will be three concerts with music by Ørbeck: A portrait concert that includes orchestral works, the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and several other artists in Håkonshallen, and the Closing concert in Grieghallen in which Ørbeck’s music will be performed together with the Grieg A minor concerto. In addition, Japanese pianist Fuko Ishii will play one of her works for piano in Grieg's villa.

'Many of the events during this year's Bergen International Festival are about the forgotten, overlooked or hidden voices. History is full of forgotten music, and in a public arena that awards the most space to those who shout the loudest, Anne-Marie Ørbeck reminds us that we must never stop searching and listening,' says Hagen.

The tradition of highlighting a composer during the Bergen International Festival goes back to the 1980s, and the list of former festival composers includes Harald Sæverud, Arne Nordheim, Bent Sørensen and Kaija Saariaho. Still, few have been honoured in this way posthumously.

Lars Petter Hagen became Festival director in May last year. This year's Bergen International Festival takes place between 24 May–07 June and is the first with Hagen as the artistic director. So far, 29 events have been launched.

Facts/Anne-Marie Ørbeck
  • Pianist and composer born in 1911 in Kristiania (Oslo), died in 1996 in Bergen

  • Debuted as a concert pianist in Oslo in 1933, made her orchestral debut as a composer in Berlin in 1938

  • Studied in Germany, later in Paris and Vienna

  • One of the first female members of the Norwegian Composers’ Association

The Bergen International Festival wishes to thank Arnulf Christian Mattes at the Centre for Grieg Research and the Bergen Public Library for their valuable contributions to the presentation of Anne-Marie Ørbeck's music.

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